There’s nothing quite like the look of a new pair of shoes. They complement your wardrobe, fit the occasion – even reveal the kind of person you are.
The joy can quickly become despair if the shoes don’t fit properly, however. Issues such as blisters from new shoes, sore and fatigued feet, and more, often plague too many people. But we think we can help with the following guide on how to break in shoes.
We’ll look into several methods for stretching new shoes that help you and your feet to stay comfortable. The good news is that many of the methods are things you can do at home.
How to break in shoes in 9 easy ways
1. Take it slow at the start
While all of us want our shoes to fit perfectly out of the box – and some do – that may be asking too much. And new shoes generally feel great in the store, if they fit correctly because you haven’t spent much time walking in them.
It’s better to break them in gradually by walking around the house because you’ll notice the difference when you begin to wear them for extended periods. Wear them as little as 10 minutes at a time at the start and build your way up to an hour a day.
Granted, most people want to show off their new kicks immediately and wear them every day, all day, but that doesn’t guarantee a comfortable break-in period. Better to give your feet some time to become accustomed to them.
Also, wear socks – or at the least the socks you’re most likely to wear with your new shoes – while you wear them around the house during the early break-in period. It’s another way to get your feet and shoes prepped for the longer periods of wear ahead, as we as ensuring that you break in shoes without getting blisters.
- What about athletic shoes?
If you’re an athlete or otherwise lead an active lifestyle, you may have an even greater need to take your new shoes out onto the running trail, soccer pitch, or basketball court. Again, many shoe experts advise taking it slow at the start by walking around in your new athletic shoes for short periods while building up to all-day use.
If you’re a marathon runner, buy your running shoes well in advance of your next race or the beginning of training. Make sure that your shoes are fully flexible before you put in the heavy miles.
Whatever you do, whether they’re athletic shoes, dress shoes, boots, etc., treat them with care as you’re breaking them in, and not just when you’ve started to wear them regularly.
- Another word about running shoes?
A quick way to get blisters from new shoes, as well as leaving you wide open for potentially more serious issues, is to pound the pavement in a pair of running shoes that doesn’t fit correctly. And, remember, the purpose of the break-in period isn’t to overcome issues with ill-fitting shoes, but to prevent problems with shoes that may only need a tweak here and there.
A great way to avoid issues with your running shoes (while preventing foot issues) is to phase them into your workout routine gradually. For example, if you run five days a week, you can sub in your new shoes one or two days until you feel that they’re comfortable enough to wear for every run.
Something else to keep in mind: if your running shoes don’t feel or fit right when walking around in them at the running store or your home, they’re not going fit better once you start training in them. You should never think that a shoe which feels uncomfortable now is going to magically feel great when you put them to full use.
Also, breaking in sneakers is much the same as breaking in other types of shoes. You can manually stretch your sneakers by using your hands to bend the heel and toe toward each other. Continue to apply gentle pressure until the ends of the sneaker go no further. Repeat the process a few more times before moving on to the other sneaker.
Other methods for breaking in sneakers include wearing thick athletic socks and walking around in the shoes, using shoe stretch spray, or inserting each sneaker into a shoe stretcher; all are methods we’ll discuss in this article.
2. The blow dryer method
The common hairdryer is more versatile than you may think. Not only can you use it to dry and shape your luscious locks, but it’s also a tool that can help break in a pair of new shoes.
How so? Let’s take a look.
It all starts with heat, i.e., heating a shoe will expand its material (especially leather) and makes it more supple. But, first, walk around in the shoes for around 10 minutes, preferably with socks.
Next, take off the shoe and stretch it manually by bending it upwards and downwards a few times. Now it’s ready for a nice blast of heat.
Put your hairdryer on a hot setting – it doesn’t necessarily have to be the hottest setting – and heat each shoe for two to three minutes.
Note: if you don’t have a hairdryer, place your shoes by an indoor heater, or even out in the sun.
After you’ve heated the shoe, put them back on your feet and wear them – again, preferably with socks – for another 10 minutes or so. Feel free to repeat the process one more time.
3. Shoe stretchers and shoe trees
The biggest difference, however, is that the construction of shoe stretchers is designed for the job.
Should you use shoe trees? Yes, by all means, but shoe trees don’t really stretch out shoes, at least not like shoe stretchers.
Shoe stretchers consist of hardwood material, such as maple and birch, and include a metal rod that you use to add pressure to your shoes slowly while stretching them out. Most shoe stretchers come with inserts you can place in various you place in various spots, such as is in the toe, to stretch specific areas of your shoe.
Additionally, most shoe stretchers fit both the left and right shoes and you can buy them as singles rather than as a pair depending on the brand. Two-way stretchers enable the user to increase both the length and width of a shoe, and you can often find ones made for certain shoe types, including high heels.
You can even find boot stretchers that expand the shaft of the boot, which is ideal for anyone who has thicker calves.
You should always apply a shoe stretch spray to your footwear before placing them on a shoe stretcher. Leave the shoes on the stretcher overnight and then remove them by turning the handle of the metal rod in the opposite direction of the tightness setting.
Here are a few suggestions for using a shoe stretcher:
- Turn the metal rod until you feel resistance from the shoe’s material. The resistance lets you know that the material has begun the stretch.
- You may want to try your shoe stretcher on an older pair of shoes if you’ve never used one. You don’t want to go overboard on a new pair of shoes and make them too loose, which is just as much of a problem as shoes that are too tight.
- The longer you leave your shoes on the stretcher the more they’ll stretch. You should always leave them on overnight, and sometimes for 24 or 48 hours. Try a shorter period at first so that you don’t stretch them too much.
- Shoe stretcher can’t work miracles, i.e., they can turn a size 7 into a size 9. If you need that much of stretch, it’s time to choose different shoes.
- Shoe stretchers generally work best on shoes made of suede, leather, and natural materials. They won’t work as well on vinyl because vinyl doesn’t have as much “give” as other materials.
There are plenty of good shoe stretchers from which to choose, but one we like is the StyledRight Unisex 2-Way Shoe Stretcher.
We mentioned shoe trees earlier and they’re something you should have in your shoe care arsenal. The major benefit of a shoe tree is that they enable your shoes to retain their shape as they dry out. Most people’s feet perspire during the day, even just a little, and the dampness breaks down the leather.
Place your shoes on the shoe trees after every use and try to leave them there for at least 24 hours before you wear them again.
4. Stretch spray
Among other ways for how to break in leather shoes is shoe stretching spray. It’s a leather softening spray that stretches boots and shoes and specially formulated to stretch tight-fitting footwear to make them more comfortable.
A top-quality shoe stretch spray, such as Foot Matters Spray, qualifies as a leather conditioner and it won’t stain or fade your shoes, no matter what color they may be.
Pay close attention to the directions on the stretch spray container before you apply the spray to your shoes. In most cases, you can spray heavily inside the shoe and on its outer covering.
Put on your shoes after you’ve applied the spray – preferably while wearing thick socks – and wear them around the house while the spray dries. The leather should stretch out around your foot; according to one reviewer, they felt like their shoes stretched half a size.
If your shoes are still tight after applying the spray, repeat the process until you attain a comfortable fit. You can also apply a wooden or plastic shoe stretcher after you’ve sprayed your shoes, as well, which say some shoe care experts, is how you can get the best results from your spray.
So, what’s in shoe stretcher spray? Diluted rubbing alcohol mostly and do-it-yourselfers may try to mix up a batch of their own with equal parts water and rubbing alcohol.
5. Using ice to break-in and stretch your shoes
Another well-test DIY method for breaking in shoes involves the use of ice.
Water expands as it freezes, and that’s how it’s useful for giving your news shoe a little extra stretch while providing the most comfortable fit.
Here’s how it’s done:
- Take two large freezer-friendly ziplock bags and place one inside the other. Double-bagging acts as a safety measure to prevent water from getting inside your shoes.
- Fill the interior bag with water. How much water you use depends on what area of the shoe you’re trying to stretch; if your goal is to stretch the toe and instep, fill the bag halfway with water. Fill only about ¼ of the bag if you want to stretch just the toe, and slightly more than a half to stretch the toe, instep, and ankle.
- Push out the excess air from the bag and seal it tightly. Removing the air prevents the ice from forming with air bubbles, which may pop.
- Place the bag into your shoe while taking extra caution not to tear it. Position the bag as close as possible to the area you want to stretch, such as the toe.
- Put your shoes in the freezer and leave them there for four to eight hours so that the water forms a block of ice. Your shoes will expand by up to 10% as the ice freezes.
- Remove your shoes from the freezer and let them sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Doing so allows the ice to thaw a bit, which makes it easier to remove the bags from your shoes.
- Remove the bag slowly; you can let it thaw for a bit longer if it doesn’t come out right away. You can repeat the process if your shoe needs an additional bit of stretching.
6. Wearing thick socks
Another tried-and-true method for breaking in and stretching your shoes involves the use of thick socks.
There are two methods, actually. The first involves putting on a thick pair of socks and then walking around in your new shoes until they (the shoes) start to stretch and break-in. Don’t do this for long periods, but only for, say, 15 to 20 minutes at a time – and feel free to do it in similar shorts spurts throughout the day.
Another method you can try with thick socks is to put your shoes on over the and then use a hairdryer to direct hot air on the area of the shoes that need stretching. Keep the hairdryer pointed at the tight area – on medium to high heat – for up to a minute and then walk around the house with your shoes. The heat helps soften the leather.
7. Leave it up to a professional
Although it’s not as common as it used to be, many shoe repair shops and cobblers offer shoe stretching services. You won’t break your budget paying for a professional’s expertise and you can rest easy while knowing that the task of breaking-in your shoes is – at least in part – in the hands of an expert.
A cobbler can not only stretch your shoes, but he or she can also do repair work on older shoes to help make them last longer.
8. The peeled potato method
Another DIY method for breaking-in and stretching shoes involves the use of a peeled potato.
Yes, it’s true: take a peeled potato and mold it into the shape of your shoe’s toe box. Wipe the potato dry – excess moisture isn’t good for the inside of your shoe – and stuff it inside your shoe and leave it there overnight. It should provide some stretch, however modest.
9. Miscellaneous methods for breaking in new shoes
There are many other methods people use for breaking in their new shoes, which is a testament to the creative powers of the human mind and how common it is to stretch shoes.
Perhaps the best method of all, and it doesn’t necessarily involve breaking in or stretching shoes, is to get them sized correctly before you purchase. Never succumb to the notion that your new shoes will fit better the longer you wear them even if they’re a bit uncomfortable in the store. A bad fit is a bad fit, and if your shoes don’t feel comfortable as you walk around in them at the store, the chances are that they’ll never feel comfortable.
Your best bet is to have your shoes measured by a professional, although there are many do-it-yourself methods, including the one shown in this video:
But a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Measure both feet
True, it sounds a bit obvious, but don’t measure one foot and assume that the other one is the same size. In many cases, one foot may be slightly longer or shorter than the other foot, or even differ in width.
- Try your shoes on at the end of the day
Your feet naturally swell as the day goes on. So, a shoe that fits great when you try it on in the morning may feel tighter later in the day. It’s always a good idea to try on shoes in the late afternoon or early evening to get a true fit.
- Wear the same socks you normally wear
Try on your new shoes with the socks you’d normally wear for that type of shoe. You’ll get a more accurate fit that way.
Some bath and body spray, and even lotions, can help stretch shoes made of natural material, such as leather. Spray the area of the shoe that’s giving you the most problems, both in the interior and exterior of the shoe. Put your shoes on immediately after you’ve sprayed them and wear them around the house until the spray is dry.
Boots present another issue regarding the break-in period because you not only have to worry about the fit of the boot, but also the fit of the part of it that slips over your calf. You can stretch this area by wrapping your calves in a thick bandage or some other material and then warm up the boots with a hairdryer.
Make sure the boot isn’t too hot and then place them on while zipping them up (if there is a zipper) as much as possible. Wear them for around an hour and then reheat them before taking them off. Walk around for a few more minutes – with the zipper down – until they’ve cooled.
Meanwhile, your everyday bar of soap may help break-in and stretch your shoes, as well. Wet a bar of soap and place it inside the shoe at the area you want to stretch. Let the wet (and mushy) top layer of the soap absorb into the shoe and then wear the shoes for an extended period.
Don’t forget about your favorite perfume. Buy an inexpensive bottle of perfume that contains a lot of alcohol and spay that in the interior and on the exterior of your leather shoes and boots. The alcohol helps to stretch the leather. Walk around in your shoes until they’re dry.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Can you break in shoes that are too small?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” All of the methods listed above will help make your shoes fit more comfortably without leading to the kinds of issues – blisters, rubbing, etc. – that come with shoes that are too tight.
How long does it take to break in shoes?
The answer depends on many factors, including shoe construction, the upper’s materials, and the material and thickness of the sole. In general, a quality pair of shoes should feel comfortable within five to 10 wearings.
Can a cobbler break in shoes?
Absolutely. Consumers spend millions of dollars each year to have their shoes machine-stretched by a cobbler. That’s not to say it’s expensive, however, because a professional shoe stretch shouldn’t cost you more than $20.
Can you break in leather shoes?
There are many different ways to break in leather shoes, including most of the methods we list above. From breaking them in gently by wearing them for short periods to blasting them with heat from a blow dryer, there are many methods to get those leather shoes to fit like a glove.
Can you break in synthetic shoes?
Shoes have come a long way over the past several decades as footwear made from synthetic material has become increasingly popular. And, yes, you can break in synthetic shoes in many of the ways listed above, including the blow dryer method.
Can you break in suede shoes?
Like any other type of shoes, a new pair of suede shoes take some time to break in. As we discuss in our tips for breaking shoes, go slowly at first by wearing your suede shoes for short periods until they fit most comfortably.
Can you break in Converse shoes?
A quality pair of Converse shoes – such as the iconic Chuck Taylor high-top – are amazingly comfortable once you break them in. While they may take some time to mold to your feet, most of the methods listed above will place them in the “comfy” category soon than later.
How to break in shoes that are too narrow?
Resolving a fit that’s too narrow is one of the most common scenarios for breaking in shoes. Fortunately, there’s more than one solution – as we list in our tips for how to break in shoes.
How to break in shoes that give you blisters?
Blisters are often the consequence of wearing shoes that are too tight or that haven’t been broken in properly. Make sure to wear your new shoes around the house for a few hours before wearing them full-time, and also practice proper skincare.
How to break in shoes without hurting your feet?
There’s no reason why breaking in a new pair of shoes has to be painful, no matter what their material. Use any or all of the tips above until your shoes feel cushy and comfortable.
As you can see, there is a variety of methods for breaking in new shoes, and many of them you can do on your own. You can also leave the job up to a professional, but no matter what method you choose, it’s important to take the time to break in shoes properly before you start wearing them for the long haul.
What method do you use for breaking in your new shoes? Have you tried any of the methods listed above? As always, we’d love to hear from you.